BALLYMONEY Borough Council has agreed to back a motion to ‘reject the welfare cuts agenda and austerity policies being pursued at Westminister’ and call ‘on the Assembly to amend the Welfare Reform Bill’.
The motion, proposed by Sinn Fein Cllr Philip McGuigan, did however receive some objection from DUP members which resulted in it being reworded from ‘in the north of Ireland’ to ‘here’.
During a recent Council meeting members were asked to consider the following motion: ‘That this Council rejects the welfare cuts agenda and austerity policies pursued at Westminister which are targeted at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society and which will create significant hardship and difficulties for many individuals and families.
‘And calls on the Assembly to amend the Welfare Reform Bill consistent with the specific circumstances and needs of people living in the north of Ireland and to work together to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected’.
In response Cllr Ian Stevenson said he was ‘all for protecting those most vulnerable and disadvantaged’ however added that he ‘wasn’t sure that it was a matter for Council and the statement’.
Cllr Anita Cavlan explained that she ‘deals with people on benefits and regularly sees what is happening to those who are disadvantaged’. She explained how people with cancer or needing a walking aid were having their benefits cut off and told they are fit for work adding: “It seems those who are worst off are being affected the most. And we need to make a stand, the Assembly should not follow Westminister in these cuts”.
Agreeing Cllr McGuigan said he ‘understood Cllr Stevenson’s comment over the need for the statement’ but explained that: “We are elected representatives so it is up to us to make our feelings known. We need to highlight that we are not happy with the effects this is having on benefits and the welfare of local people.
“There is no work out there and it seems they are punishing the unemployed, those who have a sickness, disability or the most vulnerable in our society. Stormont should be making amendments to the Bill.”
Mayor, Cllr Evelyne Robinson said she concurred with Cllr Stevenson’s comments and hit out at the ‘North of Ireland’ wording of the motion stating: “We are loyal citizens of Northern Ireland and could look at the Bill, but it is not something for the North of Ireland...whatever that means!”
Quick to respond Cllr Cavlan hit back asking: “Are you not passing this motion because of the wording? North of Ireland is a rubbish thing to argue about. It is simple terminology and is not worth arguing over. We should support the vulnerable people or not at all.”
Cllr Robinson explained that ‘everyone was allowed to have their own opinions’ and she ‘already fights for the plight of the older people’.
She added: “We do have to accept cuts to the Welfare system. The country has no money anymore.”
Cllr Stevenson supported Cllr Robinson outlining that it was good ‘to get it accurate’ and suggested changing the wording to ‘Northern Ireland’.
Again responding Cllr Cavlan explained that minutes before Council had backed a motion to support the Armed Forces and questioned: ‘What’s the difference?’
Clarifying her opinion Cllr Robinson said: “I’m not saying not to support this, but there has to be some cuts/changes to the system.”
Calming the discussion down, Cllr McGuigan suggested: “It’s not cuts needed but changes that have to be brought about. We need to put pressure and be taken seriously. I don’t want to lose support on this motion just because of the terminology. So I propose we change it to ‘living here’ rather than ‘North of Ireland’.”
Alderman Bill Kennedy joked ‘Here in Northern Ireland’.
Cllr Tom McKeown backed the motion saying that ‘we need to let people in this borough know that we have not let them slip by us. Some people just don’t know where to turn’.
Cllr Frank Campbell and Cllr Roma McAfee also backed the motion.
It was therefore unanimously (13 votes) agreed to change the wording of the motion to ‘here’ and then passed.